my research


At its core, my research investigates the nature and computational properties of phonological knowledge, and refines the theoretical mechanisms used to model that knowledge.  My research interests cross-cut formal, fieldwork, computational, and laboratory-based approaches to phonology, focusing on featural spreading and harmony processes.

General research topics

Gradience in phonology: Using experimental fieldwork data from five Central Asian Turkic languages, I'm investigating whether morphophonological alternations may be gradient.  Phonological theory has traditionally treated phonological features as discrete (+ or -, 1 or 0) variables, but my current work argues that gradience must be incorporated into linguistic theory, affecting both representations and rules/constraints.


Computational complexity and the subregular hierarchy: (with Eric Baković, Anna Mai, and Eric Meinhardt at UCSD)  Recent proposals argue that segmental processes are subregular and maximally weakly deterministic in the Chomsky hierarchy. Empirically, this work examines these proposals using vowel harmony data from a variety of languages, with an emphasis on ATR harmony in Tutrugbu, a Ghana-Togo Mountain Language.  Formally, this work proposes, a crucial to the definition of weakly deterministic regular functions.


Directionality and prominence: (with James Essegbey, University of Florida) Work has debated the role of directionality and prominence in the typology of vowel harmony.  In this work we examine progressive prefix-initiated rounding harmony in Tutrugbu, a Ghana-Togo Mountain languages.  We compare the Tutrugbu pattern with other languages with attested prefix-initiated harmony, arguing that prefix-initiated progressive harmony is always initiated by prominent positions, and as a result, that progressive directionality is not necessary as a theoretical primitive.  In other words, progressive directionality is always derivable from some source of prominence.


Non-iterativity: (with Darya Kavitskaya, UC Berkeley) It has been argued that non-iterative harmony patterns are problematic for Optimality Theory, and in response, that they are epiphenomenal, always reducible to some other factors.  In this project, we're analyzing rounding harmony in two dialects of Crimean Tatar using production studies from recent fieldwork.  We show that harmony in the Central dialect is non-iterative, and its non-iterativity is not reducible to other factors in the language, and that at a more general level, non-iteravity is not problematic for Optimality Theory.

Turkic Languages

Almost anything Turkic can get me excited. Here are a few of the projects I've been working on.

Exceptionality in Kazakh: This project involves a description of several morphemes in Kazakh and their interaction with backness harmony in colloquial and literary Kazakh.  I marshal evidence from fieldwork on colloquial Kazakh along with two orthographic copora and one audio corpus of literary Kazakh, contending that exceptional morphemes obey locality restrictions, contradicting one recent claim.  More broadly, this work addresses the importance of data collection methods on linguistic theory.


Locality and Transparency in Turkic: I'm examining the role of locality in Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and Uyghur harmony systems.  It has been claimed that Kazakh and Kyrgyz exhibit strictly local harmony, affect both vowels and consonants.  On the other hand, Uyghur is argued to exhibit significant transparency (non-local harmony), and this work assesses these claims from fieldwork data.  Results to-date indicate that harmony in Uyghur, contra previous reports, is strictly local.


Stress and intonational prominence in Kazakh: Whether Kazakh has stress or not has been a contentious issue among Kazakh linguists, and this project offers the first experimental data on the topic.  Further, this project addresses  stress in the context or larger prosodic prominences in the language, providing a basic description of declarative intonational structure in Kazakh.


Front round vowels in Crimean Tatar (with Darya Kavitskaya at UC Berkeley) The surface acoustics of front rounded vowel in Crimean Tatar vary significantly based on consonantal context, and we are examining the role of consonants in backness harmony in this language, considering both its role in the synchronic system and the development of vowel and consonant harmony systems.

downloadable papers

McCollum, Adam G.; Eric Baković; Anna Mai, and Eric Meinhardt. (under review). The expressivity of segmental phonology and the definition of weak determinism. Phonology [pdf]


Essegbey, James & Adam G. McCollum (submitted). Initial prominence and progressive vowel harmony in Tutrugbu. [pdf]


McCollum, Adam G. (accepted). The empirical consequences of data collection methods: A case study from Kazakh vowel harmony. Linguistic Discovery. [pdf]


McCollum, Adam G. & Si Chen. (accepted). Kazakh. Journal of the International Phonetic Association. [pdf]


McCollum, Adam G. 2018 Vowel dispersion and Kazakh labial harmony. Phonology 35.2. [pdf]


McCollum, Adam G. & Darya Kavitskaya. 2018. Non-iterative vowel harmony in Crimean Tatar. In Proceedings of WCCFL 35. [pdf]


McCollum, Adam G. & James Essegbey. 2018. Unbounded harmony is not always myopic: Evidence from Tutrugbu. In Proceedings of WCCFL 35. [pdf]


McCollum, Adam G. 2017. Mayak and the typology of labial harmony.  In Supplemental Proceedings of the 2016 Annual Meeting on Phonology. [pdf]


Chen, Si; Zhang Caicai; Adam G. McCollum, and Ratree Wayland. 2017. Statistical modelling of phonetic and phonologised perturbation effects in tonal and non-tonal languages. Speech Communication 88: 17-38. [pdf]


McCollum, Adam G. 2016. Modeling the gradient evolution and decay of harmony systems. In Supplemental Proceedings of The 2015 Annual Meeting on Phonology. [pdf]


McCollum, Adam G. 2015. Labial harmonic shift in Kazakh: Mapping the pathways and motivations for change.  In Proceedings of the 41st Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society,  pp. 329-352. [pdf]


McCollum, Adam G. 2015. Labial harmony in Kazakh: Descriptive and theoretical issues. Unpublished MA thesis. University of Florida. [pdf]


McCollum, Adam G. 2015. Whose graduates are getting jobs in linguistics? [pdf]

This was something that I did one night while deciding on which PhD program to enter.     Basically, I took a sample of over 300 university professors' CVs to see where they went to school and when they graduated to get some  data on job placement trends.